> 2015 > June
The 78th Session of the Nevada Legislature is now over. It’s been called historic. Some say it was so because of the myriad of education reforms that were enacted. Others say it’s because of the sizes and kinds of tax increases that were passed to fund those reforms, totaling an estimated $1.3 billion over and above the prior two-year budget.
Both sets of “historians” are correct. The changes about to be brought about by Governor Brian Sandoval and Nevada lawmakers are going to be significant in both scope and cost. Let me tell you why I think so, and why I supported both the new reforms and the new revenues.
Most Nevadans are aware that our K-12 educational system’s performance has been quite poor for some time. High school graduation rates, while steadily improving in Washoe County, have on average been among the lowest in the country. The number of Nevada students going on to achieve college degrees has also been abysmally low. This is especially troubling when one considers the workforce opportunities awaiting residents of the Silver State with the advent of high-tech companies like Tesla, Switch, and the “drone” industry all taking flight over what many consider a new oasis in Nevada’s economic landscape.
Science, technology, engineering and math—or so-called “STEM” learning—is, in part, what’s needed to steer young Nevadans along a pathway to success. Even in occupations where STEM skills don’t come into play, reading, writing and ‘rithmetic skills are needed. Gaming-related and construction jobs are still important to Nevada, but they don’t support and sustain the goal of a diversified economy for the good of our children and grandchildren.
Among the many education reforms of which I’m especially proud is Nevada’s expanded commitment to Charter Schools and a public school “choice” program that provides families and students with numerous options in their search for academic success. In addition, the passage of a “Read by Three” program in Nevada will finally hit at the problem of social promotion, giving students a better chance at being educated than incarcerated.
Reforms, however, don’t come without a price tag. The new “categorical” spending that avoids putting money into the collectively-bargained pot of the Distributed School Account comes with independent evaluations to determine whether performance is being achieved and whether further funding is warranted. Other innovative reforms like tax breaks for businesses that support need-based scholarships for those hoping to break the cycle of poverty also come with a cost.
It is a cost that businesses like mine are being asked to shoulder. Under the plan just passed by lawmakers, companies doing business in Nevada will share a greater responsibility with an expanded business license fee for all except the very smallest of single proprietorships. Small and medium sized businesses will also pay a little more for the payroll tax, a k a the MBT. And for approximately 10% of the largest corporations, many of which have heretofore not contributed to the services that make Nevada better, there is now a “commerce tax.”
A commitment to Nevada’s future is being asked of us. As someone who pays the next tax and someone whose children and grandchildren will benefit from this calculated investment in our future, I — along with Gov. Sandoval almost two-thirds of Nevada Republican lawmakers — proudly stood up and agreed this was not just historic. It was the right thing to do.